For the next two weeks ABC's Jim McKay will host at least three hours of prime-time television every day as he presents the story of the XV Olympic Winter Games from Calgary, Alberta.

At 66, filling the pivotal chair of ABC's 94 1/4-hour sports extravaganza should be old hat to McKay, who has performed this role at 10 Olympiads dating back to the Summer Games in Rome 28 years ago.

Not so. He's as enthusiastic as any first-timer and for the past month couldn't wait for the competition to begin. Just before the torch was lit he said, "I'm really looking forward to this Olympiad. It could be the most exciting Winter Olympics we've ever done."

Calgary's mountain time zone is a boon for McKay and ABC, which began live coverage Saturday. Unlike the 1984 Winter Olympics at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, when all events were completed long before ABC took to the prime-time screens, this time a high percentage of all events will be presented live. McKay likes it that way: He enjoys telling the story as it unfolds.

And he's good at it. In 1968, he became the first sports commentator to win an Emmy. Since then he has won 10, including two for his work at the 1972 Olympic Games at Munich, one for his news reports of the terrorists' attack on the Israeli athletes and the events surrounding that tragic Olympic chapter.

Being the host of an Olympiad is special. McKay enjoys "having the right to be the overall storyteller, the right to make it interesting to all. The audience is not your basic sports audience. Many of the viewers are not interested in sports.

"I'm able to do it my way, one-on-one. That's very important in telecasting. At the stadium there are 75,000 people and they think of themselves as a crowd, a unit. The television viewer is a single person. I like to speak to that 'one' person.

"The viewing public today is much more sophisticated than it was years ago. The leaders, or winners, do not have to be American to grab their attention. But it sure helps. It's just that much more exciting when the Americans are in the competition with the foreign teams."

McKay points out that this year's U.S. team is in the running for more medals in more events than at any previous Winter Games. "Hey, we're in the chase in the luge and biathlon. That's a first!"

He also looks for exciting competition in figure skating, an event he'll cover from rink-side. "In the past you could mail in the name of the winners," he said. "Not this year. It's going to be up for grabs."

McKay is also high on the large number of stories developing. ABC has assembled 82 profiles for its "Up Close and Personal" segments produced to show the human side of the athletes. One deals with Swiss whiz Pirmin Zurbriggen, defending World Cup champion, who shatters the image of hot-shot alpine skiers being party animals. Zurbriggen explains that he gets up before dawn each morning to go to church with his mother. His idol? "The Pope."

"And, almost everybody in Calgary speaks English. That also will contribute to making the telecasts much more interesting to American viewers," McKay pointed out.

"It's not hard to pump yourself up and get ready for the Olympics. The Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 take place every year. The Olympic Games come only every four years. If I were doing 162 baseball games every year, it would get old for me. Not the Olympics. They're new and big every time they come around."

Telecasting the Olympics is not always fun, however. When McKay recalls his most harrowing Olympics experience, he does not mention the 1972 Games at Munich. "Those games got to me the most. It was so totally engrossing. There was so much going on you just reported what was unfolding in front of the cameras."

The most difficult effort was in 1984 at Sarajevo. "Aside from the time zone, which robbed us of a great deal of live coverage, we ran into a five-day blizzard and were forced to fill many hours. The viewers got more luge trials and compulsory figure skating than they were ready for," McKay said. "Even Roone Arledge {Group President, ABC News and Sports} has said it was the toughest Olympics we ever did."

McKay enjoys more than just the Olympics telecasts. "They're satisfying at any age," he says. "At my age, they're doubly satisfying." Does he have plans for the 1992 Olympics? "I don't project that far ahead. I've never been 70."

McKay, who also enjoys telecasting horse racing and golf tournaments, recently signed a three-year contract with ABC that carries him through 1991. In these days of cutbacks and budget trims, his negotiations with the network were unusual. As McKay tells it, ABC Sports President Dennis Swanson dropped in at McKay's vast Bellefield Farm in Monkton, Md., pulled out a list of ABC sports events and said, "I'm going to read off the events and you tell me which ones you want to do." McKay's picks included the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont races, the U.S. Open, British Open and U.S. Women's Open in golf. Swanson also brought up the matter of McKay's contract, which was scheduled to expire in December. McKay relates that Swanson said, "Let's tear it up and make a new one." They did and McKay signed a new three-year package.

Jim McKay -- then using his given name, McManus -- was the first person ever to speak on Baltimore television. That was in 1947 when WMAR-TV first began operation. In 1950, when he went to New York to work for CBS, the network changed his name to McKay. For two years he hosted a variety show, "The Real McKay," in which he also sang.

For McKay things have been falling in place nicely recently. In addition to his picturesque farm, once the site of the famed My Lady's Manor steeplechase race, he has purchased a tower apartment overlooking the harbor in Baltimore. He has eight of his Emmys at the new apartment and two at the farm. "Nice to look at every now and then."

He has also nominated a prize gelding, Sean's Ferrari -- named for his son, who always wanted one -- for the Triple Crown races. He has not discussed with ABC what he would do if the horse did wind up in the Derby, Preakness or Belmont, which he is scheduled to do. "The odds are still 1,000-1," he said, "and besides he belongs to my wife, Margaret."

McKay is scheduled to host all the 8-to-11 prime-time segments at Calgary as well at the opening and closing ceremonies and the figure skating competition, a major portion of ABC's coverage. Husband-and-wife team Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford will host the 11:30-to-midnight wrap-up each night with interviews, features and special reports, while Keith Jackson will host the afternoon coverage on weekends.

ABC's hauled equipment for its 65,000-square-foot facility at Stampede Park to Calgary in a convoy of 16 tractor-trailor trucks. The network's innovative gear includes:

A computerized graphics machine that can reproduce photos, videos or drawings and color them with a choice of 16 million hues as well as manipulate them as needed to illustrate a point.

Dubner Character Generators that can display action or information. Stored statistics will help show a competitor's standing almost instantly.

Minicameras, some as small as a 3 1/2-ounce 2-inch cube, to show how various events look from unusual vantage points -- but not during competition. Minicameras are scheduled to send pictures from a downhill skier's cap and the tip of a ski, for example, and will be mounted on a ski jumper, luge and bobsled. Plans are afloat to mount a camera on a hockey puck and have a player shoot it at the goalie. Consultant Pierre de Lespinois said, "A lot of the equipment we're using is not even on the market."

The most extensive and sophisticated use of natural sound in the history of televising winter sports, according to ABC. Sixty strategically placed microphones will dot the men's downhill event. There will be three times as many microphones on the bobsled (30) and luge (20) runs than four years ago.

First-time use in the Olympics of the "Super Slo-Mo" camera, which sends dramatic pictures to show not only what happened but also why it happened during skiing events. (The use of this camera is not new to football and baseball viewers.)

ABC has also assembled a talented and knowledgable staff to cover the games in addition to the headliner hosts. The ABC lineup:

ALPINE SKIING -- Al Trautwig (commentator), Bob Beattie (analyst), Jack Edwards (interviwer).

BOBSLED -- Lynn Swann (commentator), John Morgan (analyst).

CROSS COUNTRY/BIATHLON/NORDIC COMBINED -- Mike Adamle (commentator), Bill Kock (cross country analyst), Kari Swensen (biathlon analyst).

FIGURE SKATING -- Jim McKay (commentator), Dick Button (Analyst), Peggy Fleming (analyst), David Santee (interviewer).

FREESTYLE SKIING -- Tim McCarver (commentator), Jeff Chumas (analyst).

HOCKEY -- Saddledome: Al Michaels (commentator), Ken Dryden (analyst). Corral: Jiggs McDonald (commentator), Mike Eruzione (analyst).

LUGE -- Sam Posey (commentator), Jeff Tucker (analyst).


RODEO -- Curt Gowdy, Sr. (commentator), Larry Mahan (analyst).

SHORT TRACK SPEED SKATING -- Keith Jackson (commentator), Lydia Stephans (analyst).

SKI JUMPING -- Chris Schenkel (commentator), Jeff Hastings (70-, 90-meter and team jumping analyst), Greg Windsberger (Nordic combined jumping analyst).

SPEED SKATING -- Gary Bender (commentator), Eric Heiden (analyst).

REPORTERS AT LARGE -- Dan Dierdorf, Becky Dixon, Jim Hill, Cheryl Miller and Jack Whitaker.